Goffman’s theory of stigmas explain just how powerful they can be. Society has a way of grouping people into categories based on certain attributes. Everyone is guilty of this simply because we are one with society. First, Goffman explains stigma as being, “a discrepancy between actual and virtual social identity that causes us to alter our estimation of them downward.” This is the relationship between an attribute and a stereotype. An example of this would be having many tattoos. In some professions it is completely normal but for others it is not. A good point brought up in class when discussing this same example, is that it all depends on the location of the tattoo(s) and whether they are visible. This leads to Goffman’s next point when he mentions that some stigmas are “known about” and some are not. If it is not known about then that person is seen as normal (discreditable- e.g. Not knowing how to read); however if it is known about than it is not (discrediting- e.g. Obesity, physical disabilities). I can definitely agree with this because if a stigma was originally not obvious or “known about” but suddenly revealed, your view/opinion/idea may, in some cases, negatively change about that individual. This is all because of the “norms” society has implemented for everyone to follow. I can see why opening up about something that is not particularly “normal” can be extremely difficult. However, if you are the individual who does not have a “known” stigma, most of your time is spent managing the information related to your stigma. Individuals in this dilemma may desperately attempt to conceal their stigmatizing attributes in a conscious strategy to pass which can put a lot of stress and pressure on you.
Merton explores the theory of structural functionalism by explaining deviance/non-conformity. He says that relationships between various social institutes that make up our society such as, government, law, education, religion, etc., are responsible for this. These things produce “anomie” when the level of expectations in society are unclear. In general, there may be moral confusion. Individuals in society must make a connection between their values and morals in order to meet their goals; however this may be difficult for some. When this is unclear, individuals in society tend to deviate in order to adapt. Merton describes the different ways of adapting in five ways: conformity, ritualism, retreatism, innovation, and rebellion.
The most controversial out of the bunch in my opinion is rebellion. Rebellion occurs when individual(s) in society are simply “fed up” of the institutional norms of society and attempt to completely change them. In the video, Reading the Riots, the English society lashed out against the government. I believe that the superior mode of adaptation was rebellion; however many conformed to the actions of others at the time being simply because everyone was doing it. This “rebellion” was a symbol for change where many refused to conform to the ways of the government through looting, protesting, and violence. This shows just how powerful anomie is and how detrimental it can be to society.
Simmel has a very unique way of looking at society. When we think of society we generally think of a group of individuals who are associated together for religious, cultural, political, scientific, patriotic, or other purposes. While this is certainly true, Simmel describes society as being far more complex. He says that the term “society” is a reification, turning something abstract into something concrete which is why he prefers using “sociation” because it emphasizes relation and process. Until Simmel, I never thought to look at it in this way. Society is responsible for giving abstract ideas meaning. It is a way of turning something that is a process into a “thing”. It is important to understand that there is a difference between the two. An example would be an organization. Simmel says that we treat organization as if they are a “thing” – something tangible; however we fail to realize that it is a process, a set of relations among people. When we think about it like that it suddenly becomes more complex.
An interesting concept is that of sociability. That is- engaging in social conversations for the sake of pleasure. There is no ulterior motive. Simmel says that serious topics should be avoided. Once there is a “goal” you have diminished sociability. I think something like this is very hard to do. While many of us do engage in conversations with people like friends and family for pleasurable purposes; it is difficult not to engage in serious conversation. In order to preserve sociability, every individual participating in the conversation must constantly be aware and monitor/guide the discussion in such a way that it does not become “too serious”. However, having to constantly be aware of this takes away the pleasure of the conversation making it seem, in my opinion, impossible.
The movie “House of Sand and Fog”, was definitely a movie that opened your eyes to the hardships of living in America. It amazed me that just being short a payment could get you evicted although it was a misunderstanding. Kathy in my opinion was just like any other typical American trying to make ends’ meet yet somehow found herself in a series of unfortunate events.
Mr. Behrani, an immigrant from Iran who was a wealthy officer in his home country, fled to America with his family for protection an thus found himself struggling. Kathy, the American, and Mr. Behrani, an immigrant, were not much different. Though they were indeed fighting over the same property, they were really both trying to make end’s meet. This reminds me of the wealth distribution in America and how unjust the system is. Immigrants like the Behrani family come to America in hope of a better life only to end up struggling. The “average” American like Kathy, who appeared to be well-off considering her house was passed down to her, was too, struggling after a misunderstanding.
The end of the movie was tragic and in my opinion, foreshadowed the consequences of living in America. If you are not “wealthy” then you do not have much hope in moving up.
(A bit late on posting this to the actual blog however it was emailed!)
The distribution of wealth in America took me by a complete surprise. One percent of the entire population owns about 24% of the total wealth while the even the so-called “rich” folk still don’t make half as much. It amazes me that those living in America, including myself, for so many years are naïve to this alarming fact. What’s even more alarming is that the middle-class, in reality, makes about the same as what we perceived the poor to be making. When we think about wealth inequality we think about it in terms of our status in our own communities instead of looking at it across the entire nation. Many of us can say we are in “good standing” or make about the same as those around us because we fail to realize that those around us are only living in the same community because they in fact do make the same as we do. The rich stay with the rich and the poor remain with the poor and so on and so forth. The wealth in America is so unequally distributed that it seems nearly impossible to move up. Something that intrigued me was that those making lower incomes who were asked to choose which pie chart they thought was the wealth distribution in America, chose the most unequal chart. Many of those individuals were immigrants who came to this country for better opportunities and live the “American dream”. The distribution of wealth in America is so alarming that it makes me question the true meaning behind this so-called “dream” that we all strive so hard to fulfill.